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Neighbor's goose
Pricelessness of "wind" in China

May 20, 2002
The Iranian

This morning I had to cool my heels for a long time in my nun-run Catholic medical clinic to see my primary care doctor, and surely after the very long and boring wait, I got his usual pep talk about the virtues of increased physical activity, again.

I promised that this time I would actually buy a tread mill machine, and I mean this--in fact I already have bought one. I said to my doc that I realize that the only way for me to get into regular exercise, is for exercise to come me, because I would never go to exercise on my own. He chuckled and said "Like Mohammad and the mountain!" I said ya, and wondered if the good Prophet would walk or run on a tread mill.

At this thought, as he was listening to my heart, I smiled and remembered that I had "coined," several years ago in a cross-cultural interfaith discussion, the statement: "Once a Catholic, always a Muslim." This is while I was trying to point out the huge similarities between Christianity and Islam--and I am sure most readers of these words would know the famous "Catholic" statement that I have messed with here, namely: "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, signifying continuity of faith and unavoidable religious commitment, at least on the part of some Catholics.

Anyhow, as I was busy with these musings, the good doctor said that he was very happy for my promise to increase my physical activity to save my own heart, and added that I would have the additional benefit of better breathing and sounder sleep, if I were to take regular exercise more seriously. The only thing he did not promise, unfortunately, was that regular physical activity would enhance my spiritual life, but he did say that regular exercise would make me happier, psychologically speaking.

Speaking of psychology, I should confess that according to some people, I have a rather "interesting mind." My good doctor this morning told me, in a very gentle, caring and polite way, of course, that one reason I should take more serious care of my health is because I am "unique" (i.e., precious) by which I think he actually meant "strange" or even "weird." You see, deep down my doc knows me. Let me explain why I think he thinks of me as being a bit strange, rather than uniquely precious. I will give you several examples in support of this hypothesis:

Example 1

This morning I first had to wait for 15 minutes or so in the clinic's general waiting area, before the nurse called me in to take my blood pressure, check my weight (and even my height--I have not shrunk, Yippee!) and my temperature. Then she sent me back to wait some more till I would be called in to go and wait even more in an examination room. She was smart, though. She gave me an "update of medical conditions" form to fill out, in order to make my wait less boring! The last question on this extremely entertaining form asked for "anything else that is important," to which I responded: "life," and I put a happy face next to it for added oomph!

Then started the very very long period of waiting in the examination room no. 2. Here, I did not even have the form to keep me amused! Fortunately, the door was open. So, I started counting the number of people who were passing by in the narrow hallway.

I talked about my alleged "interesting mind" earlier. To keep myself from falling sleep, I imagined a soccer game. I imagined that the people who were passing by the exam room no. 2 going to the right were players in the team called: "Those Who Call Others Axis Of Evil Without Thinking Even A Little Bit (TWCOAOEWTEALB--TWC, for short). The people walking to the left (opposite direction) were in the team called "Those Who Believe That Accusing Others Of Being "Axis Of Evil" Types Is Mentally And Morally Deficient" (TWBTAOOBAOETIMMD--TWB, for short). I counted the passing-by of every person as a "goal" for her/his respective team.

Needless to say, I was rooting for TWB to win, because I am quite gullible and believe that the names people or teams carry tell the truth of their intentions, the true content of their hearts. The game went on for quite a while, because my good doctor, who scored once for TWB and once for TWC, and amazingly, was also the referee, had to see two other patients before coming to see me, which would end the game. It was quite an exciting and truly confusing match, given that most people scored for both teams! It seemed that in this thoroughly hypocritical game, whose players appeared to range in age from 2 to 80 years, team loyalty and even basic honesty seemed not at all to be a consideration. Was I witnessing the truth of the human condition on this fragile planet of ours? I surely hope not.

Anyhow, my good doctor finally came in, scoring the 14th and final goal for TWB and to my relief, his entrance ended the game 14-7 in favor of TWB. The problem was that right before he came in to see me, he just finished saying to the young woman who scored the 7th and final goal for TWC to "take good care of yourself and keep up the good work." I wondered if my good doctor is for good or evil on our quite fragile planet? Should I switch to another HMO and get a new doctor?

Anyhow, he walked in, looking intently and squarely at my chart, and said: Hay Moji! How are you feeeeling this morning?" With a monotone and sleepy statement in my voice, I replied: "We won 14-7 --just to see the priceless statement on the good doctor's face! His perplexed face was just delicious to watch! You know, maybe I am a bit evil because I enjoy such moments of teasing! In fact, I think those who call others evil would be much better off if they asked this question of themselves once in a while. Anyhow, my good doctor finally had to look at me instead of my chart, but could not, for a delicious moment or two, make up his mind as to what to say. He said, finally: "Excuse me?" I did not tease him any longer and told him about my imaginary game, which prompted him to make the comment above, about me being "unique." I was quite proud of him when later on he cleverly used this notion of me being allegedly "unique" (i.e. precious) to massage my ego, in order to motivate me to take better care of myself through regular exercise. It is good for healers to be smart, really rally really smart--and really really really caring.

Example 2

In these long years of making lemonade out of the lemon of cultural and linguistic "in-between-ness," one of my coping mechanisms has been to mess with expressions and proverbs. Here I will present two of my favorites:

A- The statement in English for the fact that each individual experiences the world from his/her unavoidably unique vantage point is: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." The same meaning in Persian (Farsi) is expressed through the saying: "Alaf baayad be dahan-e bozi sheerin biaad" (It is the goat that determines if the grass is to its taste--or not). In my "unique" way of bridging cultures, I coined the following blended phrase: "Beauty is in the mouth of the goat!"

B- To express the idea that people often tend not to appreciate the blessings they already have, in English we have the expression: "The grass is greener across the fence." The same meaning in Persian is expressed through the saying: "Morgh-e hamsaayeh ghaazeh" (The neighbor's hen is a goose." My cross-cultural blended alternative is: "The neighbor's goose is greener!"

Is my "interesting mind" preciously "unique" or strangely weird? I guess "the beauty is in the mouth of the goat!"

Example 3

As I was cooling my heels at the Catholic medical institution in which my good doctor works, I was thinking about a funny "catholic" joke, which I recently heard in an interfaith dialogue gathering--and I don't shy away from religious jokes, because they are as much a part of the discourse of interfaith dialogue as are other less funny topics. In my interactions, and especially in my heart, I make sure that such jokes are only jokes, in good humor and especially in good intent of the heart.

Anyhow, the joke, as I heard it originally, went something like this:

- Why is Joseph the Carpenter (The Virgin Mary's husband) the shrewdest man in all history?

- Because he did it, and blamed it on God.

Well, in the spirit of making proverbs and expressions cross-cultural, my "interesting mind" could not leave this joke alone either. I had added some details to the joke and near the end of my doctor's visit I told him the joke, as such:

A political scientist and a theologian were arguing about why is it that Joseph the Carpenter is definitely the shrewdest man in all history. The political scientist said: "He is the shrewdest man ever, because although he did it, he was able to convince all humanity that God was the culprit. The theologian said: No, he is the shrewdest man because he was able to convince God that He Himself had done it.

The good doctor laughed, but in a restrained way, and said: "Good one, but I would wait before I would share it with the Sisters." As in the response of a number of other people who heard this "academic" version of the joke from me, my doctor's laugh was not exactly convincing. I recognized that I had taken some of the joke's funniness away, in the process of making it more intellectual. So, on my way back home in the car I started thinking about how I could give new life to the joke--sorry for the Christ-like pun! The following is my latest and final offering--sorry for the religious pun, again:

Start by asking: Why is Joseph the Carpenter the shrewdest man in all history?

When your audience eventually fails to name the right person, say:

Because he did it (short pause) but blamed it on God!

Then continue immediately and say:

Now, there once was a gathering. A politician, a lawyer, a writer, and a priest were arguing about why is it that Joseph the Carpenter is definitely the shrewdest man ever?

The politician said: His brilliance is in his ability to convince humanity that God had done it.

The lawyer said: No, it was because he was able to talk God into testifying in his favor and also accepting the blame.

The writer said: Have you folks no imagination? Look at the story he concocted, his narrative, his drama--it is incredibly unbelievably imaginative, in fact brilliant beyond brilliance beyond brilliance.

The other three said simultaneously: "Oh shut up you stuck up snob!

The priest said: Of course my children shrewdness is a gift from God. The reason Joseph the Carpenter, as a humble beneficiary of the Almighty's loving grace is the shrewdest....

The other three cut him off and said simultaneously: Come on, Father! Get to the chase, for Heaven's sake! God is really really great already. He does not need your propaganda, OK?

The priest said: OK, I forgive you. But the reason Joseph is the shrewdest man ever in the history of the universe is because he was able to convince God, and quite deeply, that He Himself had perpetrated the act!

Funnier, huh? But I suppose the final judge for the funniness of this joke is the beauty in the goat's mouth, who I hope is laughing hard. That's what counts.

I ask you: How about now? After several examples, do you believe that I am "unique" or "weird?"

You may say that regardless of the answer to this question, the more important question is: Why is it that I cannot resist the urge to mess with proverbs, expressions, and even jokes? Why is it that I have such a need?

Well, I suppose we could dig quite deep in this realm. But, given my very limited and shallow insight into my own "interesting mind," I can only provide you with the following answer:

I have been living this cultural-in-between-ness for 25 years now, as an (undoubtedly genetically violent and deep down terroristic) Eye-Rainian in America! Those who are more sophisticated than I, would say that because I have been living in a hostile cultural environment, I have developed some passive-aggressive coping mechanisms, among them messing with proverbs, expressions, and jokes. Hum! Maybe there is something to this.

But then, you may also ask why are my petty little painful experiences with American Jingoism SO important? Afterall, the planet is experiencing global warming and all kinds of injustice, resulting from the selfishness and cruelty of its human inhabitants--for example, the polar ice caps are melting as the Ozone hole is ever expanding, the gap between the rich and the poor is ever widening, and Sharon is butchering defenseless Palestinians in ever greater numbers, while George W. Bush does whatever he thinks is necessary (such as purposefully undermining the democratic movement in Iran) to get re-elected, I mean to say really elected, as opposed to appointed by the Supreme Court, etc., etc., etc.

My definitive and entirely convincing answer to your quite appropriate question above is: The neighbor's goose is greener! Now, I am sure you are scratching your head and asking: What is the relevance of these very significant problems of our very fragile planet, to this very weird and meaningless blended cross-cultural statement?

Unfortunately, I am not sure even if I myself can answer this relevance question of yours. The best I can do for you at this point is to share the expressions in English and Persian for situations in which someone says something totally irrelevant, in response to another person's question, claim, or assertion.

In English, people say: What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? The statement in Persian, however, is a bit graphic, so excuse me in advance. In Persian in response to irrelevance they would say: Gooz beh shaghigheh cheh rabti daareh?? (What does one's fart have to do with the temples--of one's head?)

Or maybe the most appropriate answer is to say: Farting after tea in Chinese temples is priceless!

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